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Sherry Sheng

Oregon State University Garden Ecology Lab Brief

By Beet 2023 11 November

What Does the Garden Ecology Lab Do?

The Oregon State University Garden Ecology Lab was founded in 2017 to advance our understanding of how to plan, plant, and manage garden systems to promote environmental and human health. We are one of two labs in the United States, and the only one in the Western half of the United States, to specifically focus on studies of garden ecology.  People studying ‘garden ecology’ conduct research in private garden spaces, in addition to community gardens which are easier to access. Research in both private and public garden spaces provides a broader view of how garden management and design influences ecological outcomes. In addition to researching plants, soils, microbes, etc., the OSU Garden Ecology Lab looks into the full supply and management chain that influences gardens: nursery producers, landscapers, gardeners, etc.

What Has the Garden Ecology Lab Discovered?

Much of our work is centered on garden insects, which are excellent models for studying urban biodiversity, species’ responses to environmental change, and food-web and ecological function in garden habitats. We have also branched out into social science, soil science, and microbiology. Because of our work on native plants, we are delving deeper into the botanical sciences, including studies of plant physiology.

Uniting our work is a common interest in urban ecology. This is timely, given regional, national, and global urbanization trends. In six short years, we have made many novel and important contributions to the sciences. Specifically, we have:

  • Identified 10 Pacific Northwest Native plants that are most attractive to bees (peer refereed publication).
  • Found that gardeners generally didn’t prefer bee-attractive native plants (peer refereed publication).
  • Developed an infographic to help raise gardener acceptance of bee-attractive native plants (peer reviewed Extension document).
  • Identified five Pacific Northwest Native plants that are most attractive to predator and parasitoid insects (journal publication and Extension document in preparation).
  • Studied how cultivation of native plants and native cultivars affects bee, syrphid fly, and butterfly visitation (award-winning scientific posters in 2022 and 2023, with two journal publications in preparation).
  • Studied how cultivation of native plants and native cultivars affects plant traits that are important to bees, such as nectar volume, pollen nutrition, UV guides (journal publication in preparation).
  • Studied how cultivation of native plants and native cultivars affects the use of flowers as nest site materials in leaf-cutting bees (journal publication in preparation).
  • Developed a technique that scientists can use to take bee-vision photos of flowers outdoors. Examples include a group art gallery show at OSU, a solo art gallery show at the Pine Meadows Ranch for Art and Agriculture in Sisters, and an OSU Honor’s thesis, and journal publication in review.
  • Assayed the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of vegetable garden soils tended by Master Gardeners, and found that excessive fertility was the norm (peer refereed publication).
  • Extended the urban soils study by further characterizing garden soil bacteria, and the extent to which microbes transfer to and influence gardeners’ skin microbiome (peer refereed publication)
  • Identified the bee communities of Portland-area gardens (iNaturalist guide, with a social media campaign, species guide, and journal publication in preparation)
  • Compiled and analyzed the global list of garden bees, to identify the bee types that are favored versus excluded in garden systems (peer refereed publication in press)
  • Identified the potential value of gardens as conservation areas for pollinators, in a mixed agriculture and urban landscape (peer refereed publication)

What Are Our Future Plans?

Future work will be guided and informed by you – gardeners who can help determine high priority questions that our lab could address within our areas of expertise or with collaboration. Potential ideas for future studies include:

  • Determining the pollination and predation impacts of syrphid flies in gardens.
  • Studying the carry-over effect of garden trees for urban cooling and moderation of urban dust, from garden sites where trees are planted to areas outside of property boundaries.
  • Studying the trade-off between letting summer lawns go dormant and urban heat, versus watering summer lawns, and evapo-transpirative (ET) cooling. This study would also examine the trade-off between urban heat and ET cooling with alternative lawn plantings.
  • Studying how mixed- versus single-species plantings of pollinator attractive plants influence garden pollinator communities.

We are collaborating on two projects that are somewhat ancillary to residential gardening systems, but whose outcomes are likely to benefit gardeners who grow food in apartment buildings or on rooftop gardens.  Our collaborators are:

  • University of Oregon architects: to develop model designs for closed-loop, building integrated agriculture systems that use heat and water waste from high-rise buildings to grow food. We are testing prototype urban agriculture window ‘beds’ on the fifth floor of the PAE Living Building in Portland, OR.
  • OSU Nursery Plant Physiologists: to grow a hydroponics training program in Oregon. This work is focused on commercial growers but could also benefit home-growers.

What Does it Cost to Run the Garden Ecology Lab Research Program?

It costs $106,000 annually to host two graduate students and pay for research expenses. These students work under the guidance of Dr. Langellotto, Lab Director and Professor of Horticulture, on a variety of projects. The OSU Horticulture Department underwrites student tuition which reduces our annual fundraising goal to $86,000.

Please consider contributing to support garden research. If you use a check, please write Oregon Garden Research Fund, Acct 4100-16055 in the check memo line. If you contribute in other ways, please add this note in the appropriate location. Mail to:

Oregon State University Foundation

4238 SW Research Way

Corvallis, OR 97333.


If you donate with a credit card, go to, select the amount and frequency, then type in Oregon Garden Research Fund under “I want to give to”. Complete the rest of the form.

Contributions are tax-deductible per IRS rules. Oregon State University’s federal tax ID is 93-6022772